Meet the Chennai-based artist ‘vocalising the violin’

Among Kanyakumari’s various achievements, a rare honour close to her heart is the one she won in the US

author_img Aruna Chandaraju Published :  12th December 2021 12:49 PM   |   Published :   |  12th December 2021 12:49 PM
Avasarala Kanyakumari

Avasarala Kanyakumari

In 1980, the celebrated violinist Avasarala Kanyakumari cherished real fandom for the first time. She was at that time a young and upcoming artiste who was on a concert tour accompanying her legendary musician-guru ML Vasanthakumari (MLV) to the United States. “After the concert, an American violinist came up to me and gifted me a violin, saying it was his tribute to my talent. I was happy and thrilled. But my guru MLV was happier. She always took pride in my work,” recalls the veteran singer.

Decades later, and now a Sangeeta Kalanidhi (the highest, most prestigious title in Carnatic music and the first lady violinist to be thus honoured), Padma Shri and Kalaimamani awardee, Kanyakumari will soon be bestowed with another honour. The prestigious Sri Shanmukhananda Sabha in Mumbai is felicitating her with their highest accolade called Sri Shanmukhananda National Eminence Award carrying the title Sangeetha Kala Vibhushan on December 18. Despite the pandemic putting a dent to live concerts, Kanyakumari is a busy musician. She recently completed and celebrated the 100th episode of her unique offering Shatha Ekaika Raga Vaibhavam project, an instrument ensemble showcasing the ekaika ragas (only one composition exists in each respective raga) of revered vocalist Sri Thyagaraja. 

Among Kanyakumari’s various achievements, a rare honour close to her heart is the one won in the US. And this time it is an official one. She was mentioned in the Congressional Record (something rare for an Indian musician), the official written record of the proceedings and debates of the US Congress. Raja Krishnamoorthi, from the House of Representatives, representing the state of Illinois’ 8th District, incorporated this recognition on August 6, in the Extensions of Remarks section, “to honour the life and talent of Avasarala Kanyakumari, a revered master violinist, composer and teacher”. 

Kanyakumari explains how the recognition came about. In 2015, she had played the US national anthem at the John F Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington DC. “I decided to render it again now, as a tribute to the country in its 245th year of independence. It was also to mark 45 years since I first visited it with my guru MLV.  I developed this track—around two minutes long—and notation. Then I sent it to around 40 students of mine, including those who play the guitar, keyboard, violin, veena and the piano. They played it individually, and then it was put together. Finally, I sent it to Raja Krishnamoorthi, explaining the tribute reference as he is also a Carnatic-music lover.”

The Chennai-based artiste is known for ‘vocalising the violin’ (gayaki style) and insists on students mastering lyrics or sahityam too. She sings the sahityam while teaching the violin, saxophone, veena or the keyboard. She teaches free of cost as a way of paying forward. So what is the virtuoso who has many firsts to her credit, including being the first female Carnatic violinist to create ragas, up to now? “I keep planning things, but it is difficult to disclose details.” Music lovers, for sure, have much to look forward to.